In the spring of 2014, a meta-analysis was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine which stated that the amount of saturated fat in your diet makes no significant difference in coronary heart disease rates.
Understandably, this caused confusion and upset in people who have been told by the medical establishment for several decades that saturated fat was clogging arteries and causing heart disease. Many people have also been told that fat makes them fat, and again better information is coming out that makes it clear that fat is not the primary villain.
Headlines can be misleading, of course. If your diet consists primarily of hamburgers, bacon, fatty cheeses, you’re going to have health issues. That’s also true if your diet consists primarily of fast food, or packaged food, or baked goods. Overconsumption of one category of food, particularly when that type of food has health drawbacks, will definitely create problems for most people.
Sugar Is Addictive
On the flip side, unless you have allergies, a small amount of most foods will not do any serious harm. The one exception may be sugar, since many people cannot seem to limit themselves to a small amount due to sugar’s ability to trigger opiate receptors in the brain. In short, for many of us sugar is addictive, so dabbling with a little bit can be a challenge.
Not All Saturated Fat Is Bad
We now know that not all saturated fats are bad. Moderate amounts of coconut oil, butter, olive oil, dark chocolate, nuts, or even animal fats, even though they contain saturated fats, are not unhealthy. They are certainly a safer alternative than anything with trans fats or partially hydrogenated fats, or margarine.
However, this doesn’t mean that saturated fat is good for you. If you eat a lot of saturated fat, your possibility for contracting heart disease will probably still go up. The latest research shows not so much that saturated fat is healthy, is that there are several other things which had been overlooked which are even more unhealthy.
Consider All Major Dietary Factors
If, for example, you cut back on saturated fat, but increased your consumption of refined starches and sugars, your chance of heart disease would most likely go up, not down. The key to understanding the latest research is to realize that we cannot just remove one single component of our diets to achieve health. Certainly, cutting back on white sugar or refined flour is going to be helpful for most North Americans. Yet removing one or two dietary choices does not equal a healthy diet.
So What Is a Healthy Diet?
The lifestyle changes in diet that we encourage here at dietMD Hawaii involve reducing your consumption of packaged and processed foods, while focusing the bulk of your diet on a wide variety of vegetables and fruits which are naturally rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. I encourage you to choose healthy fats, eat moderate amounts of protein, and carefully limit intake of refined starches and sugars.
Reading food labels becomes an important skill, but of course if you avoid packaged foods you have fewer labels to read.
I believe that this approach is the best general diet for maintaining health and energy, and if you maintain this diet after your initial weight loss, you’ll find it much easier to avoid rebound weight gain.